I'm more of a picture person while my wife is a prose person. That said, here is a thousand of Mo's (my wife) words to go with my pictures. This also marks Mo's first time blogging.
We arrived in Casablanca in one piece. True, it was a long, gruelling ride-- but here we are. We are both well, thank goodness, and in fine spirits.
We had a good trip. Our first "international incident" - and we've had a couple! - was when we were in the Madrid airport, waiting to connect to Casablanca. Ever the photographer, Scott thought it might be quite fun to take a picture of a sign that said "Morocco" - this being our first time there, excitement was in the air. He went ahead and did so, only to be accosted by a woman from El Al, the Israeli airline, which was close by. Those of you that are savvy travellers are probably aware of the fact that Israel apparently has THE safest airline in the world. I myself was not aware of this, and was quite fascinated to witness this exchange! Apparently one does not just willy-nilly take pictures of anyone or anything related to El Al - at least, not without permission. The lady made it very clear that Scott was to stop taking pictures right away... which, of course, he did. What was particularly interesting to me were the interview stands they had set up in the background. Before someone can board the plane there is an interview process they must go through (if they are suspicious in any way), which, I suppose, is how come they are the safest airline in the world! I was quite intrigued by how aggressively they guard their territory - even at the airport - and how seriously they take their responsibility! But we survived that minor incident, and eventually boarded the plane to Morocco.
I won't bore you with the details of that particular departure! Suffice it to say it was quite harrowing, what with the plane making sickly noises and all. However, it DID take off eventually, and we got to Morocco tired, hungry and quite grumpy. Travelling for so long will do that to one! I must admit I was underwhelmed by the security in Morocco. Given the Zimbabwean/American passports situation we have, I, as always, was given the suspicious and borderline rude treatment I get in most places around the world. Interestingly enough, while the process was a lot faster for Scott, the service was equally surly. We had 3 large suitcases, packed to the brim of course, 2 heavy carry-ons, and 2 back-packs. With all that we decided to try the "nothing to declare" line, and were immediately waived into the country, no questions asked. We shrugged and moved on to the exit line, where we had to go through the x-ray/security point. Again, the lack of attention there was quite worrisome. There was only one person manning the line, and he got into an argument with a traveller. He pulled him aside so they could argue without blocking anyone else's way, but while their backs were turned in heated argument, the rest of us just waltzed through. I shudder to think how many people went through that checkpoint without anyone looking at what they were carrying! And so, on that rather anticlimactic note, we had really arrived in Morocco.
I've always had a sense of home-coming when I get to an African country, but not so in Morocco. I'm having a hard time reminding myself that it is part of Africa, because it is not an Africa I know. Africans here are very light, and they dress in an unfamiliar manner. So that begs the question: what makes home home? If the smells are different, the spices exotic, the background din foreign, I guess I don't think I'm in Africa. Clearly for me I feel I have not arrived on the Motherland. Yet. Which is something I didn't expect. I had somehow imagined that Morocco would resonate with me, but I see that the old statement is true: Africa IS a large continent, and as such the west is very different from the south. I'm getting a crash course in French - it has been a while since I last used it, and believe me, it shows! But I have enough that I can (eventually!) make my point. Watching Scott is interesting, though, because for him this is a place where he has no voice. If one doesn't speak Arabic or French here, one is quite lost. The masses know very little English, so as one wanders around it is challenging to ask questions about the city's history, or to ask why certain things are done in a certain way because of the language barrier. And you guys know how many questions Scott has! So this is proving to be quite a challenge for him, if only because it is such an unusual situation for him.
We haven't seen much of Casablanca yet. That's because a few hours after we arrived we were wisked off to Marrakech. It's beautiful! We were travelling as a group, which always changes the dynamic and casts things in a different light. We went to a souk, a market, and I was impressed by all the color. The spices range anywhere from a deep blue to a dark red. Who knew that Saffron is red?! Anyway, wondering around that market, with the stench of sweaty armpits, over-eager people jumping out of stalls to try and sell us their wares, and the unmistakable smell of sewage hovering a litle too close for comfort, it was quite an experience. We didn't buy much, but enjoyed the experience. What has been a surprise to us, though, is the amount people smoke. It's almost as if smoking is as natural as drinking water when one is thirsty. The notion of 2nd hand smoke is nonexistant here - if you don't like people smoking in your face the message is: GO HOME. And even there you can't be sure someone won't puff in your face!
Last night we went to dinner and a show in Marrakech. We had lamb, and of course I had to try the fatty skin. I couldn't eat much of it, but the little I had wasn't bad! Made me wonder how people who eat that can be as slim and healthy as they are here. But I suppose it's because they work hard physically, and quickly use it up! The dinner and show were at a restaurant called 'Chez Ali', which is on the outskirts of Marrakech. Our host couldn't fit all of us in his car, so Scott and I and another couple said we'd take cabs. The first sign of trouble was that neither of the cab drivers knew where the restaurant was (We had to take 2 cabs, since each small cab could only fit 3 people, and there were 4 of us.) Then, when they finally figured it out they told us that small cabs (like the ones they were driving) are not allowed to go beyond a certain point in the city. You must, they told us, take a large cab ("un grand taxi") for that. So we asked them to take us to a grand taxi. However, perhaps because they wanted to make a quick buck, or because they thought they could get away with it, they decided (without consulting us, mind you) to take us directly to the restaurant. And wouldn't you know it, we were flagged down by a cop on the outskirts of the city, and told to turn back. So here were are, at 8.45pm-ish, on the outskirts of town parked by the side of the road, not quite sure where we are, and not sure where we're going. The long and the short of it is that the 2 cab drivers wound up bribing the cop to let us through, which made them both mad, because there was no way they were going to make any money on this trip! But they eventually got us to the infamous "Chez Ali", where we had a very decent meal and show!
I could type for hours, but I shall stop here for now. It's 7.30 pm on Tuesday evening as I type, and it's time to get ready for dinner. No one eats early here - dinner is at 9pm! In the meantime, I hope this finds you all in good health and high spirits.